Former Desha County Clerk Beth Fuller Moncrief has filed a complaint with the state Board of Election Commissioners alleging numerous election violations in the May 20 preferential primary in Desha County.
Moncrief, who previously served six years as Desha County Clerk before seeking another office, challenged the incumbent county clerk Valerie Donaldson in the May primary. Donaldson won the race 755 to 728.
In her May 27 complaint, Moncrief alleges:
• voting machines and data storage cards were not properly tested prior to the April 28 deadline;
• off-site early voting was held outside the timeline permitted by state statute;
• absentee and early voter ballots were counted at a different time than what was published;
• sample ballots were not posted for early voting or election day voting;
• the time and location of retabulation was not published in a newspaper with general circulation in Desha County and a member of the news media was told the media was not allowed to attend that meeting;
• voting machine and provisional ballots did not arrive at the Silverlake precinct on election day until 8:12 a.m. and three voters (identified by name in the complaint) were unable to cast ballots due the late arrival;
• election results were not posted after closing polls at the Jefferson and Silverlake precincts;
• a “Notice to Provisional Voters” was not provided to provisional voters at any Desha County precinct
• there was no PVR (list of registered voters) for early voting in the Desha County Courthouse;
• numerous voters were not allowed the opportunity to vote by ivotronic or provisional ballot on election day (the complaint identifies four voters) two other voters (identified in the complaint) were instructed to go to the correct polling location and were not offered to vote provisional
• two poll workers at one precinct voluntarily assisted voters during early voting on May 17 but did not document it on the “Assisting Voters” form, those two poll workers called voters urging them to vote and one of the two poll workers on election day told voters to vote for the incumbent and was reporting to the incumbent throughout the day.
Following the election, Desha County Election Commission Chairman Katie Daniels resigned, citing health reasons. The Desha County Democratic Committee is expected to elect a new commissioner on June 30.
Desha County Election Commissioner Kurt Sims said he does not have first-hand knowledge of all of the claims in Moncrief’s complaint. However, he said he does know some of those allegations to be true.
“As a county election commissioner, even I was not informed that absentee ballots would be counted at 8:30 a.m.,” Sims said. “I also was not allowed to review the list of poll workers before they were shared with the press. Yet Arkansas law requires that poll workers be hired and approved by the Election Commission. Not only were many of my questions, concerns, and suggestions ignored, I was threatened by a law enforcement official to go along. There is a reason why the law puts the county election commission in charge rather than elected officials. When the commission lacks full oversight and authority of elections, it shouldn’t be surprising when problems occur.”
The State Board of Election Commissioners hears complaints within 180 days upon receipt of the complaint, according to Tim Humphries, legal counsel for the State Board of Election Commissioners.
Humphries said penalties for election violations range from a warning to a $1,000 fine, but the State Board of Election Commissioners have no jurisdiction over election results. To contest election results, a complaint must be filed in the circuit court where the election was held.
After Moncrief’s complaint was filed, a Desha County resident told the McGehee Times News that absentee ballots she hand delivered to the Desha County Clerk’s Office are now missing. The full story about the “missing” ballots is reprinted below, courtesy of the McGehee Times News.
Voters say ballots “missing”
■ Affected voters requesting criminal investigation
By Rachel Denton Freeze
McGehee News Times
A McGehee woman says that two absentee ballots she hand-delivered to the Desha County Clerk’s ofﬁce are now “missing.”
According to June Robnolt, she delivered absentee ballots for her husband, Sherman, and her mother. However, Robnolt says there is no record of either her husband or her mother voting in the May 20 primary.
“Basically, I was told they can’t ﬁnd them, that they were never entered into the computer,” Robnolt told the Times-News. “They’re just missing and nobody seems to know what happened to them.”
Robnolt, a retired County Clerk’s ofﬁce employee, says she handed the two ballots to Fannie Austin, an employee of the Clerk’s ofﬁce and election coordinator. Robnolt says she witnessed Austin place the ballots in a stack by the front desk with other absentee ballots.
Austin told the Times-News she remembers Robnolt delivering the two absentee ballots. “She wasn’t sure if she had put the power of attorney forms in it, so I allowed her to open them to check and put them in new envelopes and seal them, and we did that,” said Austin. “I put them with the other ballots that had come in that day.” Austin says after placing the ballots in the stack, she then went back to her ofﬁce.
Robnolt says last Friday, she went to the County Clerk’s ofﬁce to conﬁrm that the ballots had been entered into the computer and counted, but there was no record of them. “Fannie and I went over the list (of absentee voters) and the names weren’t there,” Robnolt said.
Robnolt also said she was not asked to sign a registry when she delivered the votes, adding that she had power of attorney for both her husband who is blind, and her elderly mother. She said that she did attach proper power of attorney forms to both ballots as well as ﬁll out the necessary paperwork stating she was the “legal bearer” of the ballots.
Austin conﬁrmed to the Times-News Tuesday that she had not asked Robnolt to sign a registry. “That’s on me because we were really busy that day,” Austin said. “When they come in, yes, they’re supposed to sign in.”
Incumbent County Clerk Valerie Donaldson said Tuesday that she did not personally handle or accept any absentee ballots in the May 20 Primary, but that in past elections, it was her ofﬁce’s policy to have the legal bearer of an absentee ballot sign a registry. Donaldson added that employees in her ofﬁce were instructed to use that policy in this election, but she could not conﬁrm whether or not it had been.
Robnolt says she believes the missing ballots may be the result of foul play. “I believe that someone walked by and removed the ballots because they assumed that they know who they voted for because I had worked for Beth McMahan for six years,” said Robnolt in the official complaint she ﬁled with the State Board of Elections Tuesday.
Robnolt says she and her husband are also contacting the prosecuting attorney’s ofﬁce to request a criminal investigation into the disappearance of the ballots. Both Desha County Election Commissioners Bill Dunklin and Kurt Sims say they are aware of the Robnolt ballot situation. In a phone interview with the Times-News Tuesday, Dunklin conﬁrmed that he had spoken to the Clerk’s ofﬁce and no one “refutes” Robnolt’s version of events. Dunklin added however, that it will fall upon the State Board of Elections and the prosecuting attorney’s ofﬁce to investigate.
Fellow Election Commissioner Sims told the Times-News he has contacted the State Board of Elections (SBEC) regarding the ballots and asked them how to proceed. Tim Humphries, attorney with the State Board of Election Commissioners, told the Times-News that the SBEC will investigate any and all complaints received from voters.
“Filing a complaint is the ﬁrst step,” says Humphries. “And the Clerk’s ofﬁce needs to review their procedures ﬁrst to make sure everything gets receipted in. But if somebody discarded those ballots because they didn’t like the way they voted, that needs to go to the prosecuting attorney.”
According to Humphries, intentionally tampering or destroying a ballot violates state statute 7-1-104 and is a Class D felony.
While the debate over the allegedly missing absentee ballots continues, the Desha County Election Commission did meet last Thursday afternoon to review remaining uncounted provisional ballots and certify the results of the May 20 Primary. After verifying whether or not the provisional ballots were cast by registered voters of Desha County and contacting the State Board of Elections for advice, the Commission voted to toss out all but one of the remaining provisional ballots. Reasons cited for not counting ballots included no voter I.D. presented, unregistered voters, ballots cast by convicted felons, and voters who arrived at the wrong polling site.
According to the Commission, voters who cast their ballots provisionally because they were at the wrong polling site could not count based on the legal opinion of the State Board. A former employee of the County Clerk’s ofﬁce who was at the meeting however, argued that the Commission should consider counting the ballots of those voters since voters were not notiﬁed by mail of changes in polling sites according to state law. The Commission sided with the State Board however, and voted not to count those ballots. The Commission also tossed out a provisional ballot cast by a voter listed in the registered voters database as deceased.
Meanwhile, former Desha County Clerk Beth Moncrief, says she is moving forward with her ofﬁcial challenge of the May 20 results.
Moncrief told the Times-News she has formally ﬁled her complaint citing numerous allegations of election misconduct with the State Board of Election Commissioners.
Moncrief says she is also launching a public campaign urging any voters who believe their voting rights were violated, to contact the State Board of Elections, the prosecuting attorney’s ofﬁce, and the circuit judge. “As I’ve said before, this is not about the results of the election, but the rights of the people of Desha County,” said Moncrief. “I am urging anyone who feels their right to vote was compromised to come forward. It’s our duty as citizens to make sure every vote is counted.”